St Molaise, Devenish Island

Feature Sets (2)

Description

A small rectangular oratory 7.8 m x 5.75 m in a ruinous condition with the maximum height of the walls rising to 1.85m. The proportionately thick walls (roughly 0.9 m) rest on a plinth, which projects 0.12 m externally and 0.11 m internally. The walls are faced on both vertical surfaces with coursed, dressed slabs of varying dimensions. The building originally had a steep pitched stone roof, with jointed stone shingles.

History

St Molaise (Laisre) founded the monastery at Devenish in the 6thc. Abbots are recorded in the 9th and 10thc. There was a community of Culdees at the site from the 10thc. An Augustinian priory was founded at Devenish c. 1130 (Ware), but it appears that the early monastery continued to function as a separate unit. In 1157 Devenish 'with all its churches' (Annals of Ulster) was burned. The two communities continued after the general suppression, but were apparently dispersed before 1607. Three 18thc. images show the building almost intact (Lowry-Corry 1936, 270-1). According to local tradition, between 1797 and 1803 the building was stripped of cut stone to flag the floor of the new church at Enniskillen, although no evidence of this is now visible in the latter structure.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

Doorway

The doorway was probably lintelled; it presently stands to a height of 0.93m. The jambs are inclined (width 0. 72 m, narrowing to 0.67 m) at the highest remaining level. They are articulated externally by a flat band (width 0.22 m x depth 0.023 m) and may be compared to Banagher (Derry) and Aghowle (Wicklow).  

Other

Corner Pilasters

Pilasters articulate each corner of the building.

NE pilaster

The base and lowest pilaster stone appear to have been carved from a single block, although this block is now much defaced by breaks and modern concrete. The E face of the base is carved with interlace composed of beaded strap work. The N face of the base was probably carved in a similar manner, but only a fragment in the top E corner remains.  

NW pilaster

Only the base and a small section of the lowest course remain. The base (height 0.24 m x width 0.57 m x depth 0.235 m) is decorated on N and W faces and on 0.08m of the S face. N and W faces are decorated with a small central palmettte, surrounded and surmounted by large, double-contoured scrolls. Five beaded straps bind the scrolls on the W face, those on the N face are bound by seven beaded straps. The shallow S face of the base is carved with a scroll that would seem to correspond to half of one of the scrolls on the other faces, but with the palmette omitted. A attached shaft is carved at each angle. The pilaster stone (height 0.09m x width 0.06m x depth 0.12m) has angle rolls with flat, dressed sections between.  

Pilaster Capital

Formerly built into the W gable of the building is what appears to have been the capital of one of the pilasters. Only one face of the stone appears to have been carved. This face comprises capital and abacus. The capital is carved with a design comprising two scrolls or spirals in the form of S-curves terminating with foliage. The curves are bound together by beaded straps. The abacus is carved with a band of triple strand figure of eight interlace.

SE pilaster

The base of the pilaster is all that remains at this angle. The S and E faces were both carved although both are very weathered. Both faces appear to have been carved with an interlace design with small bosses on the uppermost corners.

SW pilaster

The base is carved on its S, W and N faces with a pattern composed of alternating vertical and inverted palmettes. Between the palmettes are curving scrolls which both separate and connect the palmetts, as the scrolled end of these bands are at the same time the first leaf of each alternate palmette. The design begins at the E corner of the S face of the base with an inverted half palmette. The vertical palmettes form the centre of the S and W faces, while the inverted palmette on the SW angle appears as a half palmette on those faces. The shallow N face is too badly damaged to make out any carving, although it may too have been carved with a half palmette.

Comments/Opinions

The skeuomorphic form of the church suggests that it may have replaced an earlier wooden building on the site. The 1157 fire may provide a terminus post quem for the building. The style and some of the motifs used in the carving of the bases of the pilasters is similar to the fragments of the doorway found on Devenish during the 1970s. The interlace on the capital has parallels at other sites in the Erne basin including fragments from Aghalurcher and interlace on a capital at Kilmore.

Bibliography

  • H. G. Leask, Irish Churches and Monastic Buildings, Dundalk, 1955, 1, 37–38, 127.

  • D. Lowry-Corry, 'St Molaise's House at Devenish, Lough Erne, and its Sculptured Stones', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 66, 1936, 270–84.

  • J. E. McKenna, Devenish, its History, Antiquities and Traditions, Dublin and Enniskillen, 1931, 24–31.

Location

Site Location
Devenish Island
National Grid Reference
H 224 469 
Boundaries
pre-1973 traditional (Ulster): Fermanagh
now: Fermanagh
Dedication
now: St Molaise
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Church (ruin)  
Report authors
Rachel Moss